Driving In New Zealand In The Winter

by Mark Perkins

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Driving condition in New Zealand South Island in the Winter?

A common question asked about driving in the winter in New Zealand:-
I am planing to go to New Zealand in August for 2 weeks. But I am concerned will the extreme weather (snow fall, icy ground, heavy rainfall) seriously affect the road condition in South Island during winter. Will the poor weather conditions only occur in the high terrain area?, or will it also occur on the main roads inbetween towns, like Christchurch to Dunedin, or Dunedin to Queenstown.

Will it be better/easier/safer to join tours or travel by coaches??

The roads in sheltered areas might be affected by frost but there are often signs telling you where those areas are. The icy areas are also usually indicated by orange diamond shaped signs on the side of the road warning of Ice & Grit, we don’t use salt in New Zealand like in the UK.

It can snow in the lower lying areas but not that often. The main roads are well maintained and it is very seldon that they are closed due to snow fall. However some of the passes, Arthurs, Lindis, Lewis and Haast can be closed due to bad weather. The main one into Queenstown from Christchurch is the Lindis pass and infact the highest in the south Island. It is also worth mentioning that the highest pass in New Zealand is in fact in the North Island, the ‘Desert Rd’, which also does close from time to time  during serve conditions.

If you intend going to Milford sound the I strongly recommend you take an organised bus trip. This road can be quite tricky and besides there is so much to see you will miss a lot if you drive. Real Journeys have an excellent service.
Heavy rainfall may occur in some areas but that will depend on what weather is hitting us at the time…..a lot of areas tend to be calm and clear over winter ( or at least it is on much of the east coast of the south island….in fact the west coast has less rain in the winter than in the spring!)

The climate in New Zealand is not like continental places as we are more oceanic so we do not get as hot or cold and its quite variable over an area. Usually bad weather is not more than 1-3 days and just hope that you will get a clear run!

Like anything you do it always pays to check the weather and in particular the Road Snow Warnings site.

Here is a post about driving in New Zealand


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